At Divine Word University

The borrower

Port Moresby settlementMARLENE DEE GRAY POTOURA

KELVERI checked his bank balance on the Eftpos machine in the main shopping centre at Eriku. There was just a single kina in his account.

Payday after payday, it was always the same. He couldn’t believe it. He earned K400 and, even before the week was over, he ran out of money.

Then he’d go to the money market and borrow money from the lenders.

Kelveri depend on these money sellers, even though they ripped him off. There was no other way.

A money seller can loan K10 to Kelveri who will pay back K15 on his pay day.

Sometimes when the wantoks started pouring into the little room he shared with his wife and daughter, he would borrow up to K100 from the money sellers and the next pay day, give them K150. Can you believe it?

Kelveri shook his head in dismay. He worked hard for these good for nothing thieves who ripped off his hard earned cash.

He pulled out his wallet from his trouser pocket. He took out a K10 note. His last K10. He looked around the shopping centre. Families were busy buying food and loading them into trolleys.

Children were pushing the junior trolleys and there was happiness and contentment in the air.

Kelveri looked at his K10. What could he buy with this?

His eyes filled with tears. A grown loser who couldn’t afford to take his wife and daughter on a decent shopping trip.  A man living on borrowed money until every pay day.

The more he thought about it, the more he hated himself. He only was able to bring home rice and tins of oily fish.

Why couldn’t he do better? Why couldn’t he be like these responsible men and women, who make their families happy?

Kelveri put the K10 back in his wallet and walked out of the shopping centre. He must take his wife and daughter shopping.

He went to see a money seller.

“Brother, I need K100. I will repay you next pay day,” Kelveri told the man selling cigarettes outside the tucker box.

“If I give you K100, then you will pay me back K150. It’s K5 for every K10.”

“That’s okay,” Kelveri told the man.

After shopping, Kelveri and his family went home to find his brother-in-law waiting outside their room at the hostel where they lived.

His brother in law asked him to help pay his son’s remaining school fees. The next morning, Kelveri went to ask for more money from a different money seller.

The money seller was a school teacher. “Sister, can you help me with K150?  I will pay you back next pay day.”

“That will be K225. It’s K5 for every K10,” the seller said.

“Okay,” Kelveri told the woman.

On his way home with the K150 in his pocket, Kelveri did a quick calculation. He will be short again next pay day.

He calculated the rent plus the money he had borrowed. There was nothing and there was over a week until pay day.

He felt unreliable and hopeless. 


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Maureen Wari

Poor Kelveri. What he needs is not more money but knowledge on how to use wisely and stretch his original K400.

Barbara Short

Here is a further comment from Miriam P.......

Barbara yes, I will bring this idea of running courses on Household Budgeting across to the relevant people but I think networking through churches to roll out this program is the best avenue as the church has already an establish wide network base that reaches across all spheres of the community.

However if a basic finance/budget training package can be put together and then rolled out in that manner it would be impactful, hence why I said Department of Community Development. In fact when I worked with Nestle we had, and it still going on, the Hamamas day program that we rolled out with the women's group of various denominations and it went all over PNG into towns villages and settlements.

The program was about teaching mothers on balanced food preparation using locally grown food and basic hygiene. Maybe the commercial banks or NDB through their community programs can embark on a program like that and roll out with the church network.

For instance, with my above examples, sometimes we have whole villages turning up so we also have simple activities for kids to compliment what is being taught to parents. We give flyers and information and have practical sessions where the ladies get to show what was being taught. It was a fun filled day but with lots of learning.

Barbara Short

Some more comments from the Sepik Forum -

Preston commented .........

To resolve this problem there are many issues to deal with and a solution requires many simultaneous actions to be taken. Cases need to be dealt with on an individual basis. Spending habits and lifestyles need to be assessed, income expanding opportunities explored, systems to lower debt should be put in place like offering lower interest loans which is a big interest of mine and people must develop a financial vision and stick to it, which means absolutely saying no to unplanned requests from wantoks. We have to understand that financial progress takes time and the Price for improvement must be paid. We may say no to requests that make us broke today so that tomorrow there will be plenty to share.


Miriam P. commented ....

Wantok System is a great network with positive benefits if used in a positive manner. It helps to repatriate dead bodies from towns to villages, helps to pay school fees for disadvantage kids, helps to grow your business, gives you urgent cash when you need too with out borrowing from financial institutions etc There are a lot of examples and every one of us will have benefitted one way or another from this great networking. it is more or less the individual is the one who will have to learn to manage expectations and demands as it comes.

Church maybe is the best network to tap into to roll out simple budget skills and there are great ministries within church's (Couples for Christ, Men's Ministry, Women's ministry, Youth ministry) that can accommodate it as part of their programs.

Maybe the Department of Community Development can put a package together and roll it out within the various church networks.

Barbara Short

Exactly, Marlene.

I think there should be a well publicised discussion on all these problems so the people who have to live in the towns on a wage are given a fair go.

Also the newly marrieds need to be given help to balance their budget and be warned of the pitfalls of borrowing so they don't get into a situation like Kelveri.

Marlene Potoura

Thank you Barbara for placing 'The borrower' on the Sepik Discussion Forum, so that many Papua New Guineans can see how this borrowing thing is like a disease in our country.

The new trend of money lenders ranging from the street sellers to the working class is everywhere in PNG.

We have this mismanagement of our wages and then we move on to look for more, from the illegal lenders, who loan out K20 and then one can pay back K25 in a week or a fortnight. As soon as one starts borrowing, it is hard to stop. It is a disease eating away the Urban class of professionals.

Concerning our wantoks who ask for money, I believe it is up to the individual to make a decision. In our culture, extended family is important, as you said Barbara, most working class people move back to their village when they retire and if you were selfish in your working days, no wantok in the village would be kind to you.

And most rural dwellers in PNG think that their working class wantoks from the urban areas have lumps of money and if one comes to you and asks (look at Kelveri) and you say you have nothing to give them, then its like, 'man, Kelveri yia, wok nating lo town na nogat moni...wanem kain yia...'

Barbara Short

PNG people still have their lives tied up in the wantok system, or Melanesian Way. They are often worried if they knock back their wantoks, when they come for help, then what will happen when they get in trouble.

The wantok system has pros and cons. Many of my old students from the 1970s are now reaching retirement stage. Many of them have held down a paid job in Port Moresby all their lives but would now like to retire and lead a village life.

Those that have helped their relatives back in the village hope they will be welcomed back to the village. Some have already invested in a small house back in the village where they can go to live out the remainder of their days.

Those who have not helped their village wantoks or every their unemployed wantoks in Moresby, may feel they will not be welcome back in their village and will lose their land heritage.

Barbara Short

I placed Marlene's story on the Sepik Region Discussion Forum and there has been a good discussion on this topic. Here is a little part of it you might enjoy.

Comment from Miriam P....

This is an every pay day scenario in PNG.

One thing our people will have to do is learn to say "no" to relatives it is a really hard thing but it is the blessing in disguise, your story is of a low level earner this happens to even high income earners.

This practise is sucking the life out of so many urban PNG people. No matter how many budget training classes they may go to if they cannot say "no" the cycle repeats itself.

I know every person who reads your story will have someone they know who is going through the same cycle. If we really need to help then we need to understand why they cannot say no.

If these money sellers are not around the alternative activities would be worse than borrowing.

Comment by Harold T....

Agree with Miriam, in PNG when you say no to relatives requesting assistance you naturally feel bad so its a struggle everyone has to stand up and say no.


Here is a comment from Deborah T....

Sad. But we all gotta get out of that trap. I remember being told that a certain relative saw what brand of peanut butter I was using (made in India) & made snide comments since it wasn't Sanitarium & whatnot. I was mad as anything coz that person owes me money & sent a text the next day to borrow more.

Please Papua New Guinea. live within your means. If it means you & your wife starve while the kids eat, so be it! Sacrifice today for a better tomorrow! And tell those freaks out borrowing from you to work.

Sorry people, Marlene's story hit a raw nerve, I've got texts coming in every week with the word, "borrow" in it, as if I'm living the life of a millionaire!

I've learned the hard way: no borrowing. If I have some money I'll give it to you as a gift but I'm not gonna lend money, not to people who probably have no idea how they'll be able to pay it back, even without interest.

If someone asks to borrow K300 I tell em, "Sorry, no can do, but here's K50 & try to find some more from someone else, that's all I can afford to give." I LEARNED THE HARD WAY, borrowing because I wanna look good, pride etc., pfft, not worth it.

Harold T. agrees......

Marlene we need more awareness and to move away from this bad wantok attitude.


Deborah T. commented.....

Once again, borrowing is not worth it. It just puts you on a slippery slope to serious debt.

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